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Saturday, January 29, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Former Washington National Guard leader McGee dies at 89

The Associated Press

Retired Maj. Gen. Howard Samuel McGee, a 38-year Army veteran and former head of the Washington National Guard, has died at age 89.

Maj. Gen. McGee had suffered from prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease, and his death was the result of renal failure, said Pat Fletcher of Yarington's Funeral Home in Seattle.

Son-in-law William Hill said that Maj. Gen. McGee died at his home in Seattle on Jan. 18. Judith Hill, one of Maj. Gen. McGee's two daughters, was declining interviews yesterday, her husband said.

Maj. Gen. McGee's death was announced yesterday by Guard spokesman Col. Rick Patterson, who said a funeral service with full military honors was scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Tahoma National Cemetery near Kent.

Gov. Christine Gregoire ordered that flags at the Capitol in Olympia and at Camp Murray near Tacoma be flown at half-staff in recognition of Maj. Gen. McGee's service to the state.

Born in Port Townsend in 1915, Maj. Gen. McGee attended the University of Washington, where he was a Reserve Officers' Training Corps graduate. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in March 1940 and entered the Army in 1941.

Maj. Gen. McGee served during World War II as a unit commander, operations and executive officer, and an engineer-battalion commander.

In July 1965, Gov. Dan Evans appointed Maj. Gen. McGee state adjutant general, a post he held until February 1978.

"He was a splendid part of our administration and a great leader," Evans told The Associated Press yesterday.

Unfamiliar with the state's senior military officers at the time, Evans said he had interviewed many for the job of state adjutant general, but was especially struck by Maj. Gen. McGee. Evans said the general "had the bearing of a soldier and the look of command."

"The combination of McGee and Will Bachofner, chief of Washington State Patrol, was absolutely critical for us to do the kind of job we had to do at the state level," Evans said.

It was the late 1960s and early '70s and the country was engulfed in protests against the Vietnam War, continued unrest over civil rights and rumblings from a fledgling environmental movement.

Maj. Gen. McGee was a forceful leader and a voice of reason during a troubled time and often said, " 'We shouldn't be putting 19-year-old soldiers with rifles up against 19-year-old college students,' " Evans recalled.

"That wisdom was borne out less than two weeks later when they had the shootings at Kent State University," Evans said, citing the May 4, 1970, fatal shootings of four college students by Ohio National Guard members.

Maj. Gen. McGee was preceded in death by his wife, Bessie.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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